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Teaching the 4 C’s Without Sacrificing Content

As a part of my educational philosophy, I am trying to incorporate opportunities to explicitly practice and assess critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity within my classroom.  

But, there has always been a fear that I would have to sacrifice content in order to achieve this goal.  A recent experience made me realize that this does not have to be the case.

In my physics class, we have been studying Newton’s laws of motion.  Part of our summative assessment involved students being tasked with a problem.  They would be given a set of three carts and they had to design an evidence based strategy to give one cart the greatest displacement.  There were rules like no touching the ground and all carts had to start together.  But, outside of those rules, students were given creative freedom.  

Now, the goal of the problem itself is not an authentic scientific experience at all.  But, there are many more important goals embedded within this assessment.  In terms of content, students would need to be able to communicate their plan using understanding of Newton’s 3 laws of motion in addition to quantitative data collected through lab work and theoretical calculations that helps justify their plan.  In addition, the assessment incorporates the 4 C’s.

Creativity: Designing a plan from scratch and trying new approaches when they met challenges
Critical Thinking: Using lab data as evidence to justify a procedure
Collaboration: Working together as a group on a plan and putting that plan into action
Communication: Each student is required to use a multimedia tool to communicate the plan to the teacher incorporating data and theoretical calculations.

In addition to the 4 C’s, we don’t lose the 5th C: Content.  The students’ assessment required them to demonstrate the following learning objectives:

  • I can analyze and describe situations in which the forces on an object are balanced through multiple means and design experiments to determine forces on an object in equilibrium.
  • I can analyze and describe situations in which the forces on an object are unbalanced through multiple means and design experiments to determine forces on an object.

Collaborative, physical experiences tend to be few and far between in my classroom.  I have always felt like these team building exercises, such as ropes courses, would eat time to cover content.  But if done in the right way, I can find ways to build a great environment of collaboration and creativity at the same time students are gaining rich, experiential content knowledge.

Here’s a video showing the 5 C’s in action on the testing day.
 I have to give a big thanks to Jed Kennedy and Joel Nellis for sharing their gym space with my class.

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